Nestled along the entrance of Newport Harbor, you will find no snack shack or porta-potties in China Cove. The rich (both in history and wealth) residential enclave has a small stretch of shore that has remained relatively unclaimed by the disrespectful beach-goers who trash the big main state beach which overshadows this little piece of paradise in Corona del Mar, California.
I would often walk down to sit on the beach in the early evenings and watch the fishing boats and yachts come back into the harbor. With the sun setting behind Catalina Island on the horizon and waves splashing over the jetty at the world-famous surfing spot, The Wedge, across on Balboa Peninsula, it was easy to understand why movie stars of the Hollywood's Silent and Golden Age chose to live in this part of coastal Orange Country.
One of those movie stars was the diversely talented Dick Powell. In 1944, Dick scored the Santana, a 55-foot yawl that had started out as a staystill schooner, from nearby neighbor and actor Ray Milland (who bought it from fellow actor, George Brent). Dick kept her moored in Newport Harbor at his waterfront Bayshore Drive home that he shared with his wife, actress June Allyson. The Santana would be in Powell's possession only a short time before Humphrey Bogart fell in love at first sight of her and talked Dick into letting him buy the boat in December of 1945.
Bogie courted Bacall by taking her on romantic trips to the Balboa Bay Club, close to where he kept his boat docked in Newport Beach. I remember reading how Lauren couldn't believe her luck to learn being on the Santana made her seasick. And here she was, in love with a man who took to water like a fish! Bogie loved teaching Bacall his love for the sea. "One look at his face and you could see the purity and the simplicity of the man I knew," Bacall has stated of Bogie's demeanor while aboard Santana.
David Niven shares an enchanting tale in his first memoir, The Moon's a Balloon about spending an annual Fourth of July cruise aboard Santana along with his wife and the Bogarts. In the evening, Frank Sinatra and his party aboard a chartered yacht tied up next to Santana. Sinatra, accompanied by Jimmy Van Heusen on piano sang, literally, all through the night. "People from other boats rowed over in dinghies and sat in a circle around the two yachts, under a full moon, listening, until the sky began to grow light and the singing ended. Then they rowed quietly away."
The Santana did not just make an impact in Bogart's personal life, but also in businesss. Bogie named the film production company he formed in 1947 after his beloved boat. And although it's not the real Santana, next time you watch Key Largo, pay attention to the yacht's name on the transom.
"I don't use the boat to drink or chase dames on. I use it to get away from things. Hemingway said that the sea was the last free place in the world, and I respect and love it." -Humprey Bogart
There is a story of how towards the end of Bogie's fight with esophageal cancer, he gathered a group of guy friends, and along with his son, Stephen, who was eight at the time, took one last voyage on Santana. From Los Angeles Harbor (where he had kept Santana since 1950) to Catalina Island to Newport Beach, where they docked in Newport Harbor for the last time. It is said that Bogie didn't go ashore, but remained on the boat and reminisced on the all the happy memories he had of sailing in the harbor. When Humphrey Bogart passed away in January of 1957, his memorial service had a glass-encased model of Santana resting where a casket might have been if he had not been cremated.
My grandparents' ashes were scattered at sea several miles from the coast in Corona del Mar. This had been Bogie's wish as well, but the law at the time prohibited his request from being fulfilled. Or was it? Because if you were to go down to the shore and stand at the entrance of where Newport Harbor meets the Pacific Ocean, it's hard not to imagine seeing the spirit of Bogie sailing those open seas on the Santana.
You can discover more about Bogie by visiting the The Official Humphrey Bogart Website and by following the official Twitter of the Humphrey Bogart Estate.